Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Owl Keeper

The Owl Keeper
Christine Brodien-Jones
Delacorte, April 2010
Dystopia, Fantasy

I was super excited about this book; dystopia/fantasy for Middle Grade, what could be better? After reading Uglies about a year ago I have been reading all the dystopic, futuristic YA I can find, but I haven't really found many Middle Grade dystopias. So as soon as I heard about The Owl Keeper I knew I had to read it. And lucky for me I managed to score a copy from If you haven't check out GetGlue you should immediately. Perhaps I shall make a post about the site and its book connect later this week. But for now back to The Owl Keeper.

Maxwell Unger has always loved the night. He used to do brave things like go tramping through the forest with his gran after dark. He loved the stories she told him about the world before the Destruction—about nature, and books, and the silver owls. His favorite story, though, was about the Owl Keeper.

According to Max’s gran, in times of darkness the Owl Keeper would appear to unite owls and sages against the powers of the dark. Gran is gone now, and so are her stories of how the world used to be. Max is no longer brave. The forest is dangerous, the books Gran had saved have been destroyed, and the silver owls are extinct. At least that’s what the High Echelon says. But Max knows better.

Maxwell Unger has a secret. And when a mysterious girl comes to town, he might just have to start being brave again.

The time of the Owl Keeper, Gran would say, is coming soon.

Brodien-Jones has crafted a beautiful, exciting, action-filled story perfect for middle graders. I couldn't put it down; I had to keep reading to see what was going to happen to Max next. Middle grade boys will love the pacing and excitement of this book and want to keep turning the page. Max, Rose, and all the other main characters are all delightfully quirky and interesting. I loved Max and Rose right from the beginning. Even the villains are more than just "bad guys." They're odd and quirky too.

The world creation was one of my favorite parts. It's so important for futuristic and fantastical novels to create worlds that make sense, that the reader can picture, that draw you in. Brodien-Jones does an amazing job of this. The intricacies of the world are revealed slowly throughout the novel as Max comes to realize the true nature of the society he lives in. She doesn't spend an excessive amount of time in the beginning explaining and setting up the world, she jumps right into the story -- right into Max's life -- and lets the world create itself around him. Perfectly done.

A brief comment on the art. Maggie Kneen's spot illustrations that begin each chapter are lovely. I don't know why I like this type of illustration, especially in Middle Grade books, so much but I do. It's a nice pause in action, an added visual. I also really like the cover. It sets the mood quite nicely and gives sets up the novel's emphasis on darkness well.

As far as I know this is a stand-alone novel -- I do feel the story resolved itself nicely in the end -- but I love this world and its cast of characters and would definitely love to read any other future companion novels.

Add to the top of your to-read pile

Friday, July 16, 2010

Debut Author Challenge 2010

I just found The Story Siren's 2010 Debut Author Challenge, which sounds most exciting. So I'm joining in.

The Challenge: Read 12 (or more) 2010 YA or MG books by debut authors.

Anyone can join, with or without a blog. There are monthly prizes and other sorts of goodies, as well. Check out The Story Siren for more info and to join in the fun.

My Challenge List:
  1. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver 
  2. Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony
  3. Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
  4. The Line by Terri Hall
  5. Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien
  6. Dark Life by Kat Falls
  7. Matched by Ally Condie
  8. The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger
  9. Whisper by Phoebe Kitanidis
  10. Paranormalcy by Kiersten White 
  11. The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting
  12. Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures
Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, December 2009
Paranormal Romance

I picked up Beautiful Creatures not really knowing anything about it; I didn't really know what it was about or even what sort of book it was. All I remembered when I saw the cover was that I had heard good things. So I grabbed it off the shelf, cracked it open, and started reading.

It was excellent from the first page.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps, and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.
From the Beautiful Creatures website

Since I knew so little about the book and the back cover blurb (smartly) doesn't say anything about paranormal element comes into play. I love that the authors allowed the reader to discover that fact on her own (for those readers who have yet to read the book I will not spoil this by revealing it here). Slowly throughout the entire book we learn about Lena, her abilities, and her family. This doesn't just happen in the first few chapters, it continues to happen throughout the book.

I must say that the world- and character-building is wonderful. From the first few pages I could picture Gatlin and the entire cast of characters. There are quite a few different characters in the book, but it wasn't an issue to keep them all straight, even the jocks and cheerleaders, because they were so well written. Every character has his or her own little quirky things about them.

The plot twists and mini climaxes are excellently written and inserted at just the perfect moments building and moving the story long quite nicely. Even though the book is quite long -- well over 500 pages -- it doesn't lag in the middle or feel overly long. Take note authors, this is how you really build up a climax. This was an intense book with a potential horrible event always looming on the horizon.

Beautiful Creatures is absolutely wonderful and I don't think I can say enough good things about it. I can not wait until Beautiful Darkness is released on October 12, 2010.

Add to the top of you to-read pile

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Certain Slant of Light

A Certain Slant of Light
Laura Whitcomb
Graphia, September 2005
Realistic fiction with fantastical elements

Creepy ghost love story -- sounds perfect, but A Certain Slant of Light just fell flat for me. I was really excited to read the book, but after only about 25 pages I was bored, bored, bored. I forced myself to finish hoping that something get would happen in the end that would redeem the book. But sadly, not.

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen--terrified, but intrigued--is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess. From Laura Whitcomb's website

I will start off with the good because there were several key good things about the book. First of all I loved the concept; the plot itself was interesting and I kept reading just to find out why the main characters were dead and how they ended up haunting instead of moving on to the "afterlife." The beginning was excellent I was totally into the story right at the beginning. The mystery of the book who can see Helen, who has been dead for many, many years, is completely appealing. But that's about where the good ends.

The characters are relatively interesting, but nothing really drew me to them after the first 10 pages or so. I was interested in Helen's life/death but not all that interested. But the real problem was that nothing made me excited about the book; put it down right in the middle and walked away for several days. Not a good sign. The writing was confusing in many places and I was constantly going back and rereading sections to make sure I hadn't missed something. Many of the major plot moments just didn't seem believable. I just couldn't believe Helen and James' relationship or their relationships with their "fake" families.

I really wanted to like this book, but it was severely lacking.

Move to the bottom of the to-read pile

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mockingjay Excitment

So excited for Mockingjay (the third and final installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy)! Hunger Games and Catching Fire are absolutely amazing, so if you haven't already read them you should do so immediately. They are, of course, extremely violent -- kids killing kids for survival on national television -- but they are amazing. I read Catching Fire in an afternoon; I just couldn't stop reading. I had to know what was going to happen next.

In anticipation of the August 24th release I will be re-reading Hunger Games and Catching Fire in the next month. (Reviews to come)

If you live in the Portland area, I believe Powell's City of Books will be holding a midnight release party. I very much hope that they will be and I will most certainly be spending all night/morning reading. Counting down the days!

YA by YA

This morning's Publishers Weekly email digest included an article on Medallion Press who just launched a new imprint Ya-Ya. Their new imprint will produce YA novels and nonfiction written by young adults. The press has announced that they are currently accepting submissions, but has not announced when they expect their first title to launch.

It will be interesting to see how the imprint does; if they are able to find teen authors who are able to create books that can stand next to the current high-quality YA written by adults. Will this spur other publishers on to create their own teen author imprints?

HarperCollins created as an online teen publishing community in 2009. Teens join the site post their writing, other teens comment and offer advice, the teens vote on the best five pieces and a group of HarperCollins editors review and comment on the work. HarperCollins has a similar site for adults through which it has found an author and published one of his books. Are they planning to do the same with teens?

YA is so very popular at the moment that I think publishers are doing whatever they can to find new, fresh authors and draw in a larger audience. We'll just have to wait and see if creating teen authors is the "next big thing" in YA.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac and Audio Books

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
Gabrielle Zevin
Audio book by Listening Library, 2007
Print by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
Realistic fiction

I haven't "read" an audio book in quite sometime. The last one I attempted to listen to was The Chronicles of Narnia and I just couldn't get into it for some reason, maybe it was the narrator, I don't know. Whatever the reason I basically swore off audio books for the past several years. But a few months ago a friend of mine mentioned that she just started listening to audio books in the car (she has a rather long commute everyday), so I decided to give it a try. I don't have a particularly long commute, but I do have a 15 minute walk and then a 30 light-rail ride. It gets a bit tricky to read and walk at the same time and the train is usually pretty packed, which also makes reading a bit difficult.

So I went to the library and picked up Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac. Being able to listen to a book while walking and not have to worry about walking into things or people is most excellent. I'm hooked on audio books and have a couple more on reserve at the library.

As for the particular book I choose, it was excellent. The storyline was interesting, the characters were realistic, and the narrator was excellent.

If Naomi had picked tails, she would have won the coin toss. She wouldn't have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn't have hit her head on the steps. She wouldn't have woken up in an ambulance with amnesia. She certainly would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace. She might even have remembered why she fell in love with him in the first place. She would understand why her best friend, Will, keeps calling her “Chief.” She'd know about her mom's new family. She'd know about her dad's fiancĂ©e. She never would have met James, the boy with the questionable past and the even fuzzier future, who tells her he once wanted to kiss her. She wouldn't have wanted to kiss him back.

But Naomi picked heads.
From Gabrielle Zevin's website

I was a bit worried about this book; the premise is interesting, but could easily become to predictable. But Zevin doesn't let that happen. Naomi is an interesting character, not just because of her amnesia, but because Zevin gives her a personality beyond her health condition. You can easily relate to her. Even though she can't remember anything she still has to deal with the same issues all teenagers have to: figuring out who their friends are, who they really like, dealing with family problems, and figuring out who they really are.

The best part of the book: Naomi doesn't just spend all her time trying to be who she was before - the person she can't remember - she decides to just be whoever it is she feels she is inside. She gets a chance to start over in many ways, which I think is something many teenagers - and many adults for that matter - wish they could do. Become a different person, who you feel is more true to what you feel inside.

I'm making this book sound sappy, but it's not. Naomi doesn't just become this wonderful person overnight. She issues and fights with her parents and her friends, and has an extremely difficult time keeping it together and getting through everything. Naomi is realistic.

Add to the top of your to-read pile